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The Gardens at the Museum of Welsh Life St Fagans

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The Gardens at the museum of Welsh Life St Fagans

The gardens around the re-erected houses on site echo domestic horticultural development from the 16th century to the present day. These gardens reflect the social status of the buildings' inhabitants, with historically-correct plants and gardening techniques outside echoing the furnishings, inside, from the age and original locality of the buildings to which they belong.

The Gardens at the museum of Welsh Life St Fagans

The domestic gardens show that for most of the population, gardens tended to be functional, rather than decorative. The gardens of the ironworkers' cottages from Rhyd-y-car (1800 ? 1985), demonstrate this progression very clearly, with the purpose of the gardens changing through time from functional, complete with fruit and vegetables, to ornamental and recreational, with the emphasis on flowering plants.

The oldest garden displayed at the Museum is that of Hendre'r Ywydd Uchaf Farmhouse from Denbighshire, which dates from the early 16th century. The beds in the garden have been raised using boards, a common feature in medieval times. The plants grown in the garden also include Martock broad beans, a medieval variety mentioned in the Canterbury Tales. Raised beds can also be seen in the garden of Nant Wallter Cottage, from Carmarthenshire, a feature based on archaeological evidence from rural dwellings in West Wales.

The gardens at Rhydycar terrace
The gardens at Rhydycar terrace

One of the most important jobs fulfilled by a garden was to provide food for working families. This function is demonstrated by the garden of one of the youngest houses at the Museum - the Pre-fab. The garden was recreated using information from old letters, and also from visitors' photos and gardening books of the time. The house is furnished as it would have appeared in 1950, a time when food rationing was still continuing after the war, and the garden, with its ash paths and garden shed, has been planted with typical varieties of fruit and vegetables, such as leeks, potatoes, Brussels sprouts and soft fruit.

The garden of the House of the Future
The garden of the House of the Future

The domestic gardens contain several old and rare varieties of plants. For example, the garden of Kennixton Farmhouse, originally from the Gower, contains 'Yam' potatoes, dating from 1771, and rare crimson-flowered broad beans, and also seakale, a leafy vegetable which grows near the sea.

Unlike later gardens, plants were not thought of as separated into defined areas, so a mixture of fruit, vegetables and herbs, such as those seen in the gardens of Nant Wallter and Kennixton are a feature common to many of the domestic gardens on site. As well as being ornamental, flowers were also used in cookery and food preparation; for example, marigolds were used in soups and stews. Besides adding flavour to food, before the days of the doctor's surgery herbs were used to heal common ailments, and were therefore an essential addition to the gardens of much of the population. In Hendre'r Ywydd Uchaf, herbs useful for strewing, such as tansy and sweet woodruff were grown. These were scattered on the floor of the house, to deter insects and to keep the house smelling sweet.

Nantwallter in the summer
Nantwallter in the summer

Gardens and their plants fulfilled another important role for some. The front garden of Kennixton Farmhouse, for example, has a rowan tree, believed to act as protection against evil spirits and witchcraft. The garden of Nant Wallter cottage includes teasels, once used to prepare wool before spinning.

Many plants served several different uses ? eg. the simple nettle could be eaten as a vegetable in spring and early summer, dried, it could be used as a remedy against bronchitis and other coughs, and in the autumn, the stalks could be used to produce fibres that could be spun and made into cloth.

The gardens of Kennixton farmhouse